There are times when I’m out doing my weekly grocery shopping — rushing through the supermarket as quickly as I can, avoiding crowds as much as I can — when I’ll buy something, usually on sale, with no real idea how I’m going to use it, but to have on hand for an undetermined meal later in the week. Recently, I bought a pound of packaged chorizo meat on sale with just that in mind. However, when it came to using it toward the end of my shopping week, I hit a bit of a brick wall as I wasn’t in the mood for one of my usual go-to “chili-like substances” I’ll make with ground meat, a can of tomatoes, an abundance of cumin and chili powder with a can of beans, usually combined with vegetables I need to use in the fridge.
This is usually a dependable path to a quick dinner for us with the added benefit of helping to clean out the fridge. However, it wasn’t appealing to me this time. But, due to an amazing capacity to procrastinate, I was still faced with the now almost week-old pound of chorizo meat, some wilting bell peppers and scallions — all in need of using and staring back at me whenever I opened the refrigerator door. Because one of my main activities during these semi-quarantining days has been opening the refrigerator door, this has caused undue additional stress, which required thought and action, two attributes that have been in short supply for me lately.
After much consideration, interspersed with searches for the latest updates on our government’s maddeningly pathetic attempts to agree on extending unemployment benefits, I think a saucy chili was what I found unappealing and was looking for something less liquid as I’d been making a lot of soups recently. Oftentimes, when I make a chili-like substance, I’ll serve it over my cast-iron skillet cornbread, so I thought, why not combine the ingredients for the chili without the tomato sauce and mix them with the cornbread batter? Brilliant! Brilliant at least within the context of these days when finding a cat food for our new cat, Rudy, that he doesn’t disdain qualifies as a life-altering moment in my housebound world. I mean, celebrate your victories, no matter how small.
So, here’s a recipe I put together on one of our cold New England pandemic winter nights, which we found very satisfying and relatively easy to put together. The skillet cornbread recipe I use calls for buttermilk, which I usually have on hand as I also use it regularly in our Sunday waffles, occasional Irish brown bread and it has a long shelf life. I’ve made it with half plain yogurt and half milk if you have yogurt handy as a substitute. I loosely measured the vegetables I used, but almost any vegetables you may have hanging around in need of use in your refrigerator crisper can work. You can also skip the meat altogether and maybe add some beans for a vegetarian option. That night, I completed our dinner by serving it with a green salad.
I was happy to find it worked quite well for lunch when reheated covered in the microwave and served with some fruit on the side. Proof that consciously lowering expectations these days helps relieve stress and allows for more reasons to celebrate when it’s needed most.
CAST-IRON SKILLET CHILI CORNBREAD
For the chili:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons favorite cooking oil
1 pound ground chorizo meat
2 cups diced mixed bell peppers (fresh or wilting are both acceptable)
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
4 scallions, wilted parts removed and diced
For the cornbread:
1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 F. Make the chili: Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter with the oil in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Break the chorizo meat into chunks while dropping into the pan and lightly brown. Add the peppers and scallions and sauté with the meat until softened (this is shortened by using pre-softened wilted vegetables) and add the corn. Keep warm while finishing the cornbread batter.
Begin making the cornbread batter while cooking the chili. Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the milk, buttermilk, beaten eggs, and melted butter finishing with the grated cheddar.
Off the heat, pour the cornbread batter into the warm skillet and mix thoroughly. Place the skillet on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and serve.